History : Dec 2015-Jan 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 89 strategies to improve the operations and pro- duction of Mount Vernon and his other nearby farms, neglected over the nine years of his ab- sence. He and Martha also entertained an end- less stream of visitors, many of them strangers who came to pay homage to America’s hero. Back into the Limelight But Washington’s destiny was entwined with the new nation’s too completely to allow him es- cape. He watched its growing pains with the cau- tious eye of a concerned parent and, at the same time, he unobtrusively tended his own image, guarding it for posterity and holding himself in abeyance, in case he should be needed again. By 1787 he was back on the public stage and again on his way to Philadelphia, as he had been 40 years before, this time as a delegate to the Constitu- tional Convention. He was quickly elected its president and within two years president of the new nation. He expected “that at a convenient and an early period my services might be dis- pensed with and that I might be permitted once more to retire.” But the “early period” dragged into eight years, as the former patriots argued and debated among themselves over America’s character and future. Finally, in 1796, Washington refused to con- tinue into a third term. This granted him barely three years of his own happiness at Mount Ver- non. In mid-December 1799, after spending a cold, wet day touring his farms on horseback, he began to suffer a sore throat but he kept to his routines. Two days later he was gone. In his farewell address to the nation, he had assured his fellow citizens that “I shall carry ... with me to my grave ... unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its benefi- cence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every de- partment may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete.” WASHINGTON’S LEGACY Despite his professed reluctance, Washington was unanimously elected as president. This gave him sizable powers, and over his eight years in office the country established the Bank of the United States, passed a Bill of Rights, and repaired relations with Britain. BRIDGEMAN/ACI K.M . KOSTYAL LONGTIME WRITER FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, KOSTYAL IS THE AUTHOR OF FOUNDING FATHERS, FROM WHICH THIS ARTICLE IS EXCERPTED.